We drink water to stop hunger – Malnourished pupils

Nigeria is one of the five countries with half of the world’s malnourished children. MOTUNRAYO ABODERIN writes on how some of these children cope in Lagos

Every morning, 12-year-old Francis Ikechukwu, a pupil of Ojodu Berger Grammar School, walks to school on an empty stomach. Drinking only a cup of tea to hold his hunger, Ikechukwu has to sit in a congested classroom with little ventilation for about six hours before going on break.

He said, “I just have a cup of tea every morning. I usually get hungry during lessons and then I drink water to stop the hunger.” When asked why he does not eat a proper meal before going to school, Ikechukwu said, “That is what my mum gives me, I can’t complain.”

There is also nine-year-old Olum Ayaba seen walking around his school – Vetland Grammar School, Agege, barefooted. On a daily basis, he gets to school around 6:30am to join his mates in sweeping and cleaning the school premises before the morning assembly. Before leaving his house, Ayaba said, “My mum usually gives me rice. For lunch, I eat N20 rice, and then in the night, I’ll eat rice.”

A vendor at the school who chose to remain anonymous said that about 60 per cent of the children don’t eat breakfast at home and 20 per cent of them don’t have money to buy food in school.

She said, “These children come to school hungry. Some of them don’t even have money to buy food. It is either they come to beg for snacks at my shop, or move around with their friends that come to school with food. By the time they have one spoon here, another spoon there; they will drink water and go back to class. It is really sad.”

Twelve-year-old Segun Umar, a pupil of Orile Community High School, Lagos, walks to school with no breakfast. Common breakfast menu such as bread and egg or cornflakes sounds like a foreign language in his ears.

On a good day, his mum gives him garri and water for breakfast, for lunch, he either buys N50 jollof rice without meat or he buys three packets of biscuit and a sachet of pure water. His pocket money for a month is N1,000.

He said, “I don’t usually have breakfast. Sometimes, I drink only water in the morning or I buy biscuit. My family does not have too much money. I have to manage the little money my parents give me. Sometimes in class, I get so hungry. My stomach starts hurting me.” On a daily basis, he has to wait till he gets home after school before he eats a good meal.

A teacher who pleaded anonymity said, “The government can at least provide one meal for these children. Some of these children are from broken homes, and some have parents who are not financially stable. When a child is hungry, it will affect his concentration in class. One meal is not too much.”

Even though these children buy lunch worth N10 or N20 at school, findings by our correspondent shows that the quantity served for them is very small.

In December 2011, the Special Adviser to Governor Babatunde Fashola on Public Health, Dr. Yewande Adeshina, said government was working on the possibility of providing free meals for primary school children, from primary one to six.

She said, “We are working to create an atmosphere where primary school children, from primary one to six, will have access to a meal. With the free meal policy, these children will have access to a meal during the school periods, Monday through Friday.” But six months later, the policy has yet to kick off.

Aside the above public schools, indications from other public schools our correspondent visited showed that they neither received a free meal nor milk from the government. Even getting companies to sponsor the supply of food items to public schools is a major challenge.

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